Echoes from a distant campaign

Michael Johansen
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Like thunder rolling from the northern horizon, faint but deep, unheard by most, it calls to the weary traveller, imploring the roadbound Canadian to heed the battle and strife laying waste to the homeland.

“Coalition! No coalition!”

“Taxes! No taxes!”

“Gun registry! No gun registry!”

“Prisons! No prisons!”

“Jet planes! No jet planes!”

“Gazebos! No gazebos!”

The news from Labrador shows an encouraging trend. For the first time, the constituency has a full slate of candidates — not one of whom was parachuted in from some distant riding.

That means, among other things, that the Green Party, the only party with a national platform worth considering in its entirety, finally has a Labrador candidate (in George Barrett) who is well worth a vote.

However, incumbent Liberal Todd Russell, who has frequently proven himself to be an able and effective MP despite sitting on the opposition benches, is likely to take the riding again, since nothing succeeds like success.

However, Russell has stiff competition from former Innu Nation president Peter Penashue, who’s a nice guy and a good campaigner, but whose judgment can seriously be questioned because of his decision to run as a candidate for the Reformed Conservatives.

The NDP’s candidate (Nain principal Jacob Larkin) is similarly hampered by association with a party leader who has shown little understanding of Labrador affairs.

While keeping abreast of Canadian events is easier than it has ever been (before the Internet, when scouring foreign newspapers for snippets of news from Canada rarely rewarded travellers with more than an occasional crumb or two), voting from abroad in a Canadian election is not as simple as it’s made out to be. That’s mostly because Elections Canada is still operating in a bygone era of printed paper and postage stamps. The process is simple enough, but too time-consuming.

The first step is to find the nearest Canadian consulate or embassy and go there to get the necessary forms, namely the “Application for Registration and Special Ballot For Electors Residing in Canada,” or registration kit EC 78510-A, as it’s called in bureaucratese.

The visit to an embassy can be surprisingly pleasant, but not altogether productive. The one in Mexico City, for example, is surrounded by high fences and heavy security, but once the guard gets a look at your Canadian passport, he smilingly lets you enter — minus any cellphone or camera you happen to be carrying. (You’ll get them back when you leave.)

Inside the consulate section, the forms are readily available, but so is the realization that the process will take so long you’ll be lucky if your marked ballot will reach a returning officer in time to be counted.

First, the filled-in form has to be sent to Ottawa, where it will be processed for accuracy and eligibility; then the special ballot voting kit is sent back to you — by regular mail, the documents insist. Your marked ballot must then be posted back to Canada, with the faint hope that given the limited amount of time available from election-call to polls-opening it will actually arrive before May 2.

“By law,” the forms warn, “we cannot accept late application forms and cannot count late ballots.”

Fair enough. Nevertheless, it’s discouraging, especially for the traveller who cannot provide one essential bit of information: “Present Mailing Address (where you want to receive your special ballot voting kit).” That means any Canadian on the move, who isn’t staying more than a few days or a week at most in any one place and who cannot predict his or her future temporary addresses, will have great difficulty getting a ballot through the mail in time to return it to Canada while it’s still any good.

One day, this might change if Elections Canada ever discovers how to use the Internet to speed things up, but for now, many Canadians who happen to be outside the country when an election is called are in danger of remaining mere spectators on the sidelines, able to hear the thunder, but not to join into the fray.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Green Party, Elections Canada, Special Ballot For Electors Residing

Geographic location: Labrador, Canada, Mexico City Ottawa

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